Learnings from the first weekend of the literary festivalsby / May 27, 2015 / Leave a comment
Much intellectual fun was had in Hay-on-Wye over the long and surprisingly rain-free bank holiday weekend. The Prospect stall on the Hay festival site did a roaring trade in subscriptions, with the book-loving crowd tempted by our special festival offer of 3 issues for £1, plus a free bottle of wine. Notable names who dropped by to meet readers and discuss ideas included the academic and author Anatol Lieven, Daily Mail columnist Peter Hitchens and the social geographer Danny Dorling.
Among my personal highlights were a thought-provoking session at How The Light Gets In on Monday 25th May debating the future of the Left and Right construct in today’s politics. On the heavyweight panel were Labour policy chief and MP Jon Cruddas, rising Tory star Charlotte Leslie (MP for Bristol North West) and the Chairman of the Open Data Institute Nigel Shadbolt. Despite their different political standpoints, the panellists did agree that a cross-party consensus on the benefits of a data-driven approach to open governance is indeed rendering the old political axis redundant. This lead us on to consider how transparent government should be in this information age, and the perils and promises this transformative opportunity presents.
I also found myself unexpectedly involved in a debate on sexual fantasies, and where should we draw the line (if at all), hosted by the Telegraph commentator and former Erotic Review editor Rowan Pelling. Central to the discussion was an analysis of the theory put forward by the psychotherapist and author Brett Kahr in his new book, Sex and the Psyche, identifying a link between the desire to enact masochistic fantasies with childhood experience of sexual abuse. Pelling counselled caution in putting too much weight on this rather overly Freudian claim, and we considered how this notion played upon existing issues of shame and guilt around our darker sexual desires, which we agreed women tend to experience more than men. In a bid to encourage an atmosphere of openness and intimacy, we invited the audience to anonymously write down their sexual fantasies and we then proceeded to read a selection of the wittiest and most revealing entries. I will spare blushes by keeping the details of most of those imaginings between myself and the 100 or so people who crowded into the Ring tent, save to say that the one which shocked even me was the stated desire by someone in the audience to surreptitiously masturbate while watching a public debate. Let’s hope that’s one fantasy which stayed purely in the mind.
One man who knows what it’s like to be the subject of sexual fantasy is Jude Law. The British actor was the A-list guest of honour at the sixth annual GQ Hay Festival dinner in association with Land Rover which took place on Sunday 24th May in the stunning grounds of Cabalva House. Law was in Hay for the hugely popular Letters Live event where he headed an all-star line-up alongside Stephen Fry and Sandi Toksvig. Having impressed a crowd of thousands earlier in the day with his rendition of Evelyn Waugh’s letter written during the Second World War to his pregnant wife, Law (who is himself a father of five) appeared to be enjoying letting off some steam in the arms of his attractive blonde companion. When asked what persuaded him to take part in the Hay Festival, Law replied that his choice of profession was initially inspired by his deep love of books. He declined to comment further saying he disliked doing interviews in “a disco.”
Among the other literati present at the exclusive bash were BBC executive and presenter Alan Yentob, former Tory guru Steve Hilton, Prospect’s resident philosopher AC Grayling, Times Literary Supplement editor Peter Stothard, and the comedian Helen Lederer. The prize for the best shape-throwing on the sloping dancefloor went to QI creator John Mitchison, who proved that his beard is not the only hipster thing about him.